I spent the past week on a silent meditation retreat to know myself better and prepare for the Atlantic row. Here are 9 of the top things I learned, which may be helpful in your own journey.
9: Make Space for New Ideas
Throughout the week as I sat and cleared my head of thoughts, great new ideas showed up. At first the rush surprised me. But as the days passed, I saw why this happens: if you want a fresh idea, make space for it to grow.
8: Multi-Task Less, Get More (Quality) Done
Attention is one of our greatest assets. Why do we divide it? Focusing on one task at a time this week reminded me how much more effective that approach can be.
One habit I’m working to change is checking my notifications or email frequently or as a “break”. That’s neither a real break nor true attention to the email or app. So instead, I plan to check my email / notifications less frequently and intentionally. If I need to step away from a task, I’ll take an actual break, then return to the task with renewed focus.
7: Break It Down
Turns out sitting still for a week is like some of the races I’ve done: you have to break it down to manageable pieces. I structured my retreat in 10-15 minute sessions in hour-long blocks. This made it easier to begin and to keep going. Even at the end of an 8-hour day, can’t anyone sit for another 10 minutes?
This tactical idea helps make “discipline” into something accessible to anyone, and reminded me that this skill required for ocean rowing is thankfully something I know well.
6: Not Satisfied? Change Your Approach
All week I saw signs of pileated woodpeckers but never the bird itself. I wondered why. Then on my 6th and final day, I took a sunrise walk and finally saw one flying down the trail. I was so excited I did a fist pump and my inner child shouted with glee (silently).
Until that day, I did most of my meditation in the morning and I walked in the afternoons. While I could have seen the woodpecker at any daylight hour, seeing it on the first morning I walked and on my final day reminded me to think about new approaches more broadly. It may seem obvious, but if you keep approaching a problem from the same angle, why would you get a new outcome?
5: Listen to My Intuition
Some of the most memorable moments this week came when I had no plan. I trusted my intuition of where to go and when.
Beginning a walk on my third evening after completing my day’s meditations, I felt drawn to go up a nearby hill. Not sure why, but something said to try it. I was delighted to find one of Earth Sanctuary’s Medicine Wheels, the skull of baby gray whale basking in the orange rays of the last evening sun. A short while later, I was gazing out at Mt. Rainier, enjoying what proved to be the only view of the mountain all week.
I did not follow a map to these spots – I just listened to my intuition to find them at the most perfect times all week. I often use being “busy” as an excuse – acting like intuition doesn’t fit into my plans. But that’s actually a great reason to create space for it. There are some moments you just can’t plan for – and if you allow for it, life can guide you to them.
4: Forget FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
Earth Sanctuary is designed for meditation. Special outdoor spaces like the dolmen and stone circlesare made specifically for it. But I did 95% of my sessions indoors. Why? Because as a total beginner, the fewer distractions and the more structure, the better my focus.
During my final walks around the Sanctuary admiring these amazing structures, I questioned whether I should have meditated at them more, instead of on the carpeted floor living room floor? After all, I love the outdoors, and isn’t what this is about?
I had to remind myself that no, I did not miss out. My intention this week was to keep my routine simple and achievable. Sitting for a week was already a challenge, and being outdoors wouldn’t make it any easier, even if the idea of it sounds nice.
Like regret, FOMO is a useless experience to carry with you. If you realize you would do something differently next time, that’s an insight you can use. (And maybe next time at Earth Sanctuary, I will meditate outdoors). But beyond making you aware, if you have ongoing FOMO or regret your decision, let it go. Focus on the future and trust your intuition.
3: Learn from the Trees
The meditation room in Earth Sanctuary’s retreat house looks out upon 3 towering cedars, who made me reflect on their qualities. Patience: what is a week of sitting to a tree that’s taken a century to grow to its height? And resolve: what can a tree do, but make the most of where it took root? Finally, love: how powerful do these trees grow, simply by reaching for the sky?
Each morning as I stared at these giants, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and inspired to learn from the trees.
2: Meditate to Build Strength Awareness
In my pre-retreat post, I said I wanted to build inner strength. But I realized that strength is secondary to the real aims from my meditation. For me, a better description of my goals was cultivating self-awareness, compassion, discipline, and connection to nature.
Together these traits may appear as strength, but strength depends on the presence and balance of these other traits that come first.
1: Take the Leap – Done is Better than Perfect
There is no such thing as the perfect time. If you’re waiting for the “right moment”, that’s an excuse. I would know – I’ve used it plenty.
This retreat was like anything else – getting it done is better than getting it “perfect” because perfect, whether in timing or in execution, is only an idea.
I went into the week pretty unprepared. I have almost no meditation experience, and other than some advice from my sister and friend, I had little guidance. So I wrote some intentions to help guide me. My pre-meditation blog was far from perfect, but it got the job done as a jumping off point. I figured things out along the way and am so glad I did, because the week was an amazing experience that I will definitely do again, at least once per year.
Do you have an idea of perfection that’s keeping you from getting something done? Remember: done is better than perfect.
And a few personal notes to myself:
Prepare to be Scared. Yup, even me, your intrepid ocean rower-to-be is afraid of things that go bump in the night. Walking trails in the dark, I realized that I’ll probably be terrified during my first few nights on the ocean alone.
Wear Headphones Less Often. Music helps me cut through the noise and get to work, but wearing headphones can also take me away from the present. I intend to think twice before popping in the headphones, especially in public.
Make More Meals Myself. Cooking my own meals this week reminded me how easy a little meal prep can be, and how nourishing it is to eat your own food. Going forward, I intend to making more meals (however simple) during my few days at home each month.
Less Coffee. Harder than it sounds. To start, I am asking myself, do I need this coffee or does it just taste good?
Support Habitat Conservation. Earth Sanctuary (earthsanctuary.org) is 72 acres of wooded wetlands with a 500-year plan to return the land to old growth forest. I loved my time there. As I drove back to Seattle past so much logging and development, I was reminded that i want to live more sustainably and support more habitat conservation. I see this as one of the key pieces of my life’s work that I’ll focus on in the years to come.
Take Fewer Photographs. This is related to the headphones – I think taking pictures makes me less present. After I snap the pic, I stop really looking at whatever caught my attention. After this week of no screens, I realized that by taking fewer pictures, I may remember things even better.
Elliot Leung graduated from UWC Adriatic in 2004. He comes from Hong Kong, where he now lives and works building digital platforms. He started his own company, Gaifong, an innovative ‘share economy’ app with it’s roots in sustainability. The platform has now expanded to be used across South East Asia. Elliot also works closely with others to help them develop and achieve their dreams in the same industry.
When he first went to UWCAD, he felt fortunate growing up in an English speaking environment, as he knew that for some, overcoming language barriers was going to be one of their biggest challenges over their time at the college. During his time at UWC, the college mission statement taught him that there is more that unites us in this world than that which divides us. He believes that global challenges require global problem solving, and that the UWC mission is a testament to that.
Elliot has known Terence for over a decade, since they were classmates at UWC. Elliot has been consistently amazed by Terence’s dedication to pushing the limits and stepping outside his comfort zone. He can’t wait to follow along with his journey on his epic row!
Do you know another inspirational UWC alumni or teacher you want us to profile? Let us know.
When the waves pummel my boat and shake me to the core, and I’m thousands of miles from land and feel I’m losing control, what will I call upon to endure?
When I was younger, I equated strength to brute force. To fight. Push. Hold. Grip.
But I’ve learned strength has many forms. And the most potent? It may actually be letting go.
Letting go of beliefs that don’t serve us. Letting go of worrying what others might think. Letting go of the need to show progress. Letting go of ego.
These are strengths I wish to build now. That’s why on this equinox marking 3 seasons until I begin my Atlantic row, I’m embarking on a week-long silent and solo meditation retreat. My aims?
To bring stillness to my mind, to watch what surfaces and stirs up ripples on the stillness, and let it go.
To release self judgements. To accept that all the things I should be doing instead, all the things I should have done yesterday, should have accomplished long ago, are past. Let them go.
To look into my eyes and heart – to really look, no buzzing or beeping or typing to turn to. To be still, breathing, and if I’m lucky, maybe dissolve a bit of the boundary between me and the air-that-becomes me, letting go of the “me” I’m attached to…. Or, if such grace eludes me, let go of the goal instead.
I first learned to meditate ten years ago through endurance sports. Now, as I prepare for the hardest endurance race on the planet, I’m learning to meditate through sitting. As I often say, the greatest strengths you develop as an athlete don’t come from the gym.
It’s with a calmness of mind, awareness of body, and presence in the moment that I will humbly rise to meet the ocean.
So for the coming week, I will meditate, write, and read Tao Te Ching so I may learn to let go. Because it’s by letting go that I will manage, stroke by stroke, to row solo 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.
Marthe Lamp Sandvik hails from Norway, and attended UWC Adriatic from 2005-2007. She currently lives in Oslo where she works in the global shipping industry. Hopefully the ships she manages steer clear of Terence while he’s out on the open seas!
After her time at UWCAD, she ended up living in the Middle East to build on her career in the shipping industry and study Arabic. After many years abroad she felt compelled to return home to Norway to make use of the many lessons she had learned from her experiences. To her, the world of shipping is a fascinating blend of local and global industries. 90% of the goods used globally are transported by sea, so there is a great proximity to international markets and and economic conditions.
Marthe works with volunteer organisations and initiatives to increase the focus on gender equality in this traditionally male dominated industry. She has also worked throughout her career to identify opportunities in the industry to elevate sustainable business models and practices.
When she first arrived at UWC AD in 2005, she was nervous, excited and scared all at once. She had no idea what to expect, but found it better to run, not walk into that uncertainty! It is impossible for her to quantify the the impact of her UWC education on her life now. The ripple effects have been so immense that she cannot imagine where she’d be today without the experience.
Like many UWC graduates, she experienced a truly formative relationship with her room mate, who she still considers one of the most inspirational people she met in her time at the college. The UWC mission taught her that there is space for every type of person on this planet.
Do you know another inspirational UWC alumni or teacher you want us to profile? Let us know.
The UWC Challenge donation port-hole is live! And we are so grateful for the initial outpouring of support. Thank you to UWC-USA who came on board as a fiscal sponsor and the 30 generous crew mates who donated almost $4,000 in the first 3 weeks. We’re so glad you’re in the boat with us – thank you all, named below!
Will you help up us raise more? Every dollar we receive goes towards the UWC Challenge scholarship fund. Our first goal is $75,000, which covers a full two-year scholarship to attend UWC. And your gift is So, where to from here?
Donate: If you haven’t yet, please visit our donation page to contribute.
Share: Please invite others to join the Challenge! Post on social media or just share directly with friends and family. Are you UWC alum? Why not get in touch with co-years, organize a dinner fundraiser, and use this as an excuse to reconnect!
Join us: We hosted the first UWC Supper Club in Oakland, CA a few weeks ago, where nearly 20 UWC alumni and friends from around the world came together for a chance to network, donate, share a delicious meal, and hear Terence’s plans for the row.
Missed out? No worries – more Supper Clubs coming up! Reserve your spot with a donation today.
Today marks the start of the 2018 Talisker Atlantic Challenge, the World’s Toughest Row from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean.
All 28 teams have been in the harbor for weeks where they’ve tested, packed, and reinforced the equipment that will keep them safe as they cross the Atlantic Ocean. Terence attended the launch two years ago, but this year he and the rest of our team watch from afar – and even while viewing online, it’s clear how much work goes into rowing the Atlantic. Whether as a solo rower or a team of 4, it takes a village to reach the start.
The 2018 teams are rowing for great causes. Kelda Wood for example is a solo rower raising funds for her charity that helps people like her who have had life-changing injuries from outdoor adventures. Her charity and this Atlantic row helps people with differing abilities stop saying ‘I can’t’, and start saying ‘how can I?’ She aims to raise £50,000 to support her cause.
Others are rowing for the environment, like the trio of British rowers ‘Status Row’ who are supporting Marine Conservation Society. Like most ocean rowers, this team has no prior rowing experience but they’ve trained well and deeply believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. And that’s just what it takes.
We’ve also been inspired by Team Antigua Island Girls, a team of four women who will be the first ever all-black team to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They’re raising funds for Cottage of Hope who house and support young women and girls who suffered abuse.
For weeks there’s been a festive feeling in La Gomera, where teams have hurried to and fro on final preparations while also enjoying the global village atmosphere. But today the mood suddenly changes. As rowers lose sight of shore and row into the distance, the reality of the task falls upon them: they are finally, after years of preparation, alone. And there is only one way forward: to row, day and night, until they cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Best of luck to those who are leaving shore today. We will be watching you on the YB Tracker. (Readers: download YB now! It’s an app showing locations for every team as they cross.)
Ever wondered what goes through the mind of an endurance athlete?
How you keep going in the face of suffering?
Turns out there are certain techniques that endurance athletes use – and mastering these same techniques can help you in your life too.
I recently had the pleasure to share some of these insights gained over 10 years as an endurance athlete with my colleagues.
Deloitte’s Denver Office invited me to speak at the DeloitteID speaker series, a nationally coordinated TED-style event designed to inspire, innovate and impact. I’m excited to share the talk with you now.
It’s Thanksgiving! A time for thanks – and hard truths.
Gratitude is not just being thankful for what’s good or easy; for me, gratitude is even more powerful when we can cultivate it for things that challenge us.
So on this day, I’d like to share a few things I’m grateful for. Some are gifts that overfill my cup. Others are tremors that shake me and cause my cup to spill. All of them help make me who I am. They remind me it’s not a question of the cup half full or half empty – it’s gratitude that there’s a cup at all. Without further adieu:
I’m thankful for my amazing team of UWC alumni who are working to make the United World Challenge a reality.
I’m thankful for you, the supporters and champions of the UWC Challenge.
I’m thankful for Atlantic Campaigns who organize the Atlantic Challenge race, a unique global platform to share UWC’s story and realize my dream of rowing an ocean.
I’m thankful for SpinDrift Rowing for designing an ocean rowing boat that’s stable and fast; and I’m grateful for all their patience and help with this campaign.
I’m thankful for all the past ocean rowers who provide invaluable advice; I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.
I’m thankful for philanthropist Shelby Davis for awarding me with my UWC scholarship in 2004 and providing so much support for the UWC movement.
I’m thankful for UWC of the Adriatic for showing me the world, taking me from a tiny town in mountains of New York to a global diverse village, setting me on course to make the most of this one dear life.
I’m thankful that before UWC, I spent a great deal of time alone as a kid, because it taught me independence and that I can be my own best company.
I’m thankful for having experienced depression at several times in my life, because it’s taught me to believe in the power to heal, given me inspiration to make my days count, and helped me empathize with others.
I’m thankful for strained relationships that challenge me, for they shine light on my own shortcomings and where I can grow.
I’m thankful for my sleepless nights, because when I toss and turn in bed, I can see with clarity the things I must address or accept in my life.
I’m thankful for the challenges in preparing this row, because when I get to the start line in La Gomera in December 2019, I will feel stronger than ever, having overcome so much to get there!
Finally, I’m grateful for UWC for showing me the difference between government and people – between culture and tradition. Appreciating this difference is one reason I’ve learned to see Thanksgiving as an opportunity. An opportunity to honor the practice of being grateful (culture) while not honoring the false narrative of where the holiday came from (tradition: retelling a myth invented by government to support a nationalist agenda).
This is just the start of the list. But I’m also thankful for the opportunity to get off my computer! So for now, will stop here.
For our next installment of Alumni in the Spotlight we have the incomparable Gintarė Eidmtaitė. Gintarė attended UWC Adriatic in Italy from 2004-2006. Originally from Lithuania, she is now based in Geneva, Switzerland where she works as a humanitarian affairs officer for the UN. Read on to find out how the UWC experience helps amazing people like Gintarė reach their potential and change the world.
What made you want to go to UWC in the first place?
I was itching to discover the world and surround myself by idealistic nerds like me. One day, I saw an ad calling for applications in a newspaper, googled the school and read up on UWC values… I remember being blown away, it really sounded like a place for me.
Before I arrived at UWC I was just a little bit scared of the unknown, though supremely excited about learning Italian and drinking cappuccinos every day.
Was there anything that you got out of your experience at UWC that you didn’t expect to?
My UWC experience both validated and made me question my identity, values and outlook to the world. But, above all, it gave me a sense of possibility: experiences, opportunities and encounters I hadn’t dreamed of were suddenly right in front of me.
How do you think your life would be different if you didn’t go to UWC?
I probably would not have ended up with a career in the service of others. For years when working for NGOs, my dad kept asking me when I was going to get a “real job”. Also, many of my closest, most cherished friends would not be in my life.
How has your time at UWC directly affected your life today?
Several years after graduation, I helped a very bright and talented young woman in South Sudan get into another UWC school. She is still in my life, and is now part of our family. The experience of helping someone navigate the shocks of moving halfway across the world at a very vulnerable time of their life was transformative for me. Then seeing her flourish once again reignited my belief in the potential and awesomeness of humans.
Who is a person you met at UWC who you find most inspiring?
My roommate Manel from Algeria who arrived at the college without English, excelled at school and then university and is now being the coolest mom to the wonderful Sophia. My other roommate Jessica, who is perhaps the most stubbornly just person I have ever met in my life and is now trying to figure out how currents work so we can save the oceans. My history teacher Eunice who forever changed the way I look at the world and understand identity. And, of course, Tez!
What does UWC’s mission mean to you? How do you choose to live the UWC values?
The sense of purpose and idealism I acquired at UWC is still very much within me. At home and at work, I strive to always challenge myself, to lead by example, to do everything with integrity and compassion. In a job where fatigue sometimes seems like the only way to remain sane, I feel like at UWC I built a base which keeps me firm and focused on why I do what I do.
What’s your job/vocation/career?
I’m a humanitarian affairs officer at the United Nations working on emergency preparedness and response in the Americas region. In particular, I manage the system where the best of the UN and of national disaster managers come together, are trained in the same methodology and then deploy to countries affected by earthquakes, floods, cyclones or other emergencies, as well as on search and rescue methodologies and capacity. I also deploy to emergencies to support humanitarian coordination. This year, I was in Afghanistan working on a drought affecting over 2 million people.
What does the UWC Challenge mean to you?
For one, it’s an awe-inspiring feat to even attempt it. I find it incredible that Tez is giving back in such an enormous way. UWC challenge will get more kids from across the world live a transformational experience, embark on a new life journey and create a more peaceful and sustainable world.